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U.S. lawmakers close in on $7.5 billion coronavirus emergency spending package

Figure targeted by lawmakers dwarfs $1.25 billion administration request

The U.S. Capitol on Feb. 20. (Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images)
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Bipartisan negotiators on Capitol Hill are closing in on a $7.5 billion emergency spending bill to fight the coronavirus, two people familiar with the negotiations said Monday.

The legislation is likely to be made public on Tuesday and pass the House later this week, before moving to the Senate. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of its public release.

Negotiators worked through the weekend to try to finalize the spending bill, working with a sense of urgency as the deadly new virus spreads inside the United States and worldwide. On Monday, health officials in Washington state reported six deaths from the virus.

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The figure being negotiated on Capitol Hill dwarfs the $1.25 billion request the White House sent Congress last week asking for new funds. The White House proposed redirecting an additional $1.25 billion from other programs and using it for the coronavirus response.

The new congressional spending bill will contain all new money, whereas the administration’s proposal was split between new money and spending taken from other accounts, including a fund to address Ebola.

Negotiators are basing the figure on needs assessments from federal agencies and health experts. The bulk of the package will consist of bulked-up funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, which houses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

Included will be money for vaccine development, procuring protective and medical equipment, and aid to state and local governments that have contended with the virus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) both spoke on the Senate floor Monday, calling for swift action on the package before lawmakers depart for a one-week recess the week of March 16.

“It will be important to past the first benchmark and supply these important funds within the next two weeks,” McConnell said.

Schumer criticized the Trump administration’s response to the virus, accusing the president of proposing insufficient resources and of downplaying the threat the new disease poses.

“When it comes to Americans’ health, when it comes to our safety, when it comes to dealing with this problem head-on, skimping doesn’t make any sense at all,” Schumer said.

President Trump commented briefly on the congressional negotiations as he met Monday with pharmaceutical company leaders at the White House, where he said they were trying to expedite work on a vaccine and therapies.

“We’re also working with Congress to ensure that America has what it needs to respond to this challenge, a great challenge, but everybody’s responding very well,” Trump said.

“The supplemental is moving along very rapidly,” Trump added. “Everyone wants to get that done. It’s moving along quickly.”

Earlier Monday, Trump accused Democrats via Twitter of “fear mongering” and urged people, “Be calm & vigilant!”

Also Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced she was convening a briefing on Wednesday for the top four congressional leaders — Pelosi, McConnell, Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — to discuss the coronavirus response in the Capitol itself.

According to a senior Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal details, there have been no discussions of shutting down public galleries or limiting tours.

“The focus has and will continue to be on preparedness and keeping the Congress open for the people’s business,” the aide said.

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